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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



An unnamed narrator describes the city where he lives during an unnamed war. He describes soldiers marching up the streets toward the mountains and military vehicles driving by. The seasons change from summer to fall, and the colors of the landscape change as well. At the start of winter, the rains come, and a cholera outbreak wipes out 7,000 soldiers.


The narrator of the novel, later revealed to be Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American soldier volunteering for the Italian army during World War I, describes the setting of a European city at war. Henry is distanced from the action, describing the natural setting rather than the fighting, yet the numerous mentions of artillery make clear that violence is imminent. The description of the changing seasons in this short chapter compactly suggests an emotional journey. The fields, once prosperous and green, suggesting hope, are now dusty, gray, and bare, symbolizing death, depletion of beauty, and disenchantment.

Henry speaks in past tense with a stoic understanding of past events. He has already experienced defeat and is looking back at the events leading up to it. He is emotionally detached from the horrors of war: the loss of 7,000 men to a horrific cholera outbreak receives only a peripheral mention.

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